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Cambodia national team to shock other SEA Games rival - Oct 11, 2007

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When an undersized but disciplined Lebanese national team knocked off world powerhouse France in the 2006 FIBA World Championships in Tokyo, a precedent was brought back to Phnom Penh by Cambodia's new national team coach Austin Koledoye.

"Basketball is a global sport now-look at China-ten years ago there wasn't anything like the impact it has today," said Austin Koledoye, a 39-year-old Nigerian who was named head coach by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports in March. "We're now playing the first structured basketball in Cambodian history."

Koledoye is fielding a 16-man roster with no players over 2 meters tall and none who can dunk.

Cambodia was affiliated into basketball's world body, the Geneva-based Federation Internationale de Basketball, in 1958. Today, Cambodia is ranked 83 in the world, FIBA's lowest tier shared by all countries with zero international points.

The national team lost its most recent international competition 137-34 to the Philippines, and until two months ago held its six weekly practices on the outdoor courts alongside Olympic Stadium.

"The last time we went to the SEA Games it was a disaster, that's not going to repeat itself," said Koledoye. "We know we have no size, but we'll develop speed, fundamentals, accuracy and defense."

The 103 points lost of Cambodia to the Asian powerhouse Philippines is the most lopsided lost in the Southeast Asian basketball history.

Koledoye grew up following the Hall of Fame career of former NBA star Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon. He played professionally for the State-run Raiders Basketball Club of Akure through the late-1980s and became a licensed International Basketball Federation referee in 2005.

Koledoye, who earned a Masters degree in Education from the College of New Jersey, has been a teacher in Phnom Penh since 1998.

"I see my players: I must face reality. We have a team that is fast so we'll put the ball on the floor and have a fast-break offense. We'll run zone defense and a full court press," he said.

Assistant coach Lor Syngharith is cautious of excessive optimism. He was a national team player during the Sangkum Reastr Niyum era, trained as a coach in Russia from 1987 to 1992 and became national coach in 1995. He laments the lack of training facilities, funding and equipment.

"In other countries they've stopped using training facilities like ours. But the new coach isn't making excuses about this. He's thinking only about training hard to reach our goal," Syngharith told the Post.

"I think his way of training is good, but I'm afraid that the trainees can't stand his strict rules."

According to Koledoye, a weight training program, increased nutrition and financial sponsorships will improve the national team.

"My reputation rests on this. We're not just going to participate, we'll try to win-it'll be tough," he said. "I tell them the NBA won't help: watch college basketball. They're beginning to understand."

With the inclusion of Cambodian-American Soap Toun, co-captain of the NCAA Division II Stonehill Skyhawks, in the team and possible more Cambodian-American recruits, Cambodian national team will try to improve their status in international basketball.   

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